Kentucky Football: A pair of disappointments to meet up Saturday

UK and Arkansas haven’t come close to expectations this season

By Brian Rickerd Published:

LEXINGTON – Notes and quotes from the few, the proud, the Kentucky Wildcats, as what’s left of them prepare to play at Arkansas Saturday night at 7 (Fox Sports TV).

And, boy, what an electric atmosphere we should see Saturday night in Fayetteville, as the most disappointing team in college football, coach John L. Smith’s Razorbacks (2-4 overall, 1-2 in the SEC), face college football’s most disappointed bunch in Joker Phillips’ Wildcats (1-5, 0-3).

Smith’s team came into this season ranked in the nation’s top 10 and is now probably only arguably one of the 10 best teams in the SEC.

Phillips’ team came into this season with no expectations, showed surprising potential for two-three games, and then have seen that pretty much all go up in smoke (no pun intended) via an injury route that’s been more damaging than a month of MMA competition. More on that in a minute.

Dick Gabriel, a truly great local broadcaster, asked Phillips at the end of his Monday news conference if it would be fair to assess Phillips’ job performance based on what has turned into a personnel train wreck.

Phillips said the only thing he could.

“I don’t have time to think about that,” Phillips said. “The only thing we have to evaluate is what we are doing football-wise and try to put a product on the field and get ready and prepared to have a chance to win the game at Arkansas.”

I asked UK’s secondary, otherwise known as senior cornerback Cartier Rice, how the Wildcats are holding up emotionally.

I did not mention Joker Phillips’ name in posing the question, but Rice replied: “Very well. We’re behind coach 100 percent. We have to hold up our end of the bargain by going out there and executing on Saturday.

“The coaches are doing all they can to provide and make sure we are prepared. We have to stay tuned in and get ready to execute a win on Saturday.”

Actually, this might be such a bad week to be on the road, away from Commonwealth Stadium.

I don’t have a good grasp yet of how the Kentucky fan base feels at large, though I could make a good guess, but I suspect the remaining air of the Wildcats’ balloon left with the high ankle sprain suffered by freshman quarterback Patrick Towles during Saturday’s 27-14 loss to Mississippi State.

Towles is listed as day to day. So there’s really no telling if he will return to game action this season or apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship, which would get him his freshman year back.

It’s all so maddeningly uncertain.

I’ve probably told this anecdote before, but it bears repeating.

The only time I saw Towles play in high school, for Ft. Thomas Highlands, was last year in a state playoff win over Lexington Catholic.

Towles threw for only some 125 yards in the game, but he clearly had command of his team in a way that you rarely see at any level of the game. I came out of that game feeling like, wow, Kentucky is getting its best quarterback since Tim Couch.

He just has, again, a presence about him – that “IT” factor that great athletes so often have.

I think we all saw that Saturday when Towles entered the game against Mississippi State and led the previously lethargic Wildcats on an 80-yard touchdown drive.

It was almost as if Towles simply willed his team to a score.

“I thought on that first drive, he was really good,” Phillips said of Towles.

On his second series, UK ran the ball three times for nine yards, and on his third series, Towles was wrapped up by a Bulldog defender and hurt his ankle trying to fight for extra yardage.

“I told him, don’t fight a guy who bear hugs you,” Phillips said of his ensuing conversation with Towles. “You’re not in high school. You’re not going to shake those guys off. The guys who were grabbing at him last year at this time were probably 150 pounds, so he could do that. This year, they’re 300 pounds.

“So I told him to go down gracefully. You’ve got to learn how to fall.”

I asked Phillips if Towles is healthy enough to play a couple weeks down the line, can UK still get a medical hardship for him?

“It’s something we will discuss with he and his family and compliance, just to make sure everything is in order,” Phillips said. “I have talked to him and told him we’ll do what’s best for him first. That’s what we need to do. That’s what we’re about.”

Even if it’s not what is best for Joker Phillips’ job status at Kentucky.

“I’m not a woe-is-me guy,” Phillip said, again. “We expect the next guy to come up and play good football for us.”

Freshman Jalen Whitlow will start at QB for Kentucky Saturday. Whitlow, as it turns out, played most of the way in the loss to Mississippi State. And while Towles played beyond his years in what was, granted, a small sample, Whitlow played truly like a freshman.

Whitlow admitted after the loss that he did not play well.

When then told by a local TV guy that UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had said that Whitlow did not play well, Whitlow stared at the questioner blankly.

There’s a lot of that going around.

NOTES: Kentucky’s home game with Georgia on Oct. 20 will kick off at 7, and will be broadcast on either ESPN2, ESPNU or Fox

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